Tue, Aug 24, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Footage gives credence to torture suspects' claims

VERDICT DELAYED A video was presented to a court in Afghanistan which seemed to verify connections between the defendants and officials

AP , KABUL

Jonathan Idema, 48, charged with running his own private prison and abusing Afghan prisoners, stands trial in Kabul, Afghanistan, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

A defense lawyer representing one of three Americans accused of torturing a dozen Afghan prisoners in a private jail showed video in court yesterday of Afghanistan's former education minister congratulating the group and offering his help in arresting terrorists.

The tape showed former minister Yunus Qanooni, an influential figure in the Northern Alliance that helped the US oust the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001, meeting with Jonathan Idema, leader of the counterterrorism group, and promising help.

"Any cooperation, we are ready. We have a small security group," Qanooni says on the tape in broken English. Another video appears to show Qanooni's security forces coming along on a raid on the home of a suspect that Idema claims was plotting to kill the Afghan politician.

Idema claims his activities were sanctioned by the Pentagon, and says the Afghan government was also behind his efforts to track down terrorists. He and two other Americans -- Edward Caraballo and Brent Bennett -- were arrested on July 5 by Afghan intelligence agents. Authorities found about a dozen prisoners tied up at the site and say there is evidence of torture.

The trio face up to 20 years in jail if convicted. Four alleged Afghan accomplices are also on trial. A verdict had been expected yesterday, but the judge postponed the proceedings for a week to allow Bennett more time to get a lawyer. Idema is representing himself.

The footage of Qanooni, also a senior Afghan government security advisor, appeared to support Idema's claim he had official sanction.

Chief prosecutor Mohammed Nahim Dawari conceded that Idema had contacts with Afghan officials, but he said they were held on the presumption that the American was a legitimate operative backed by the US government.

The Afghan government and the US military insist the men were operating without their knowledge and outside the law. Still, the US military has admitted receiving from Idema a prisoner who had been subsequently released.

NATO peacekeepers, known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), also say they were duped into helping the men on three raids in the capital, footage of one of which was shown in court. On two of the raids, traces of explosives were found.

"Does the court think that ISAF would send me 50 soldiers and 10 vehicles if they didn't know who we were?" Idema told the court. "ISAF knew exactly who we were."

In an interview from custody on Saturday, Idema told reporters that he had been hot on the trail of al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri at the time of his arrest.

Caraballo's lawyer, Michael Skibbie, said his client was a journalist who fully believed that Idema's operation was legitimate.

Another tape played in court yesterday showed Idema interrogating a prisoner, Ghulam Saki, who was heard describing how he was paid to commit acts of terrorism.

However, Saki, who was seated in the courtroom, told reporters that his confession was false and that he'd been tortured.

Yesterday's proceedings were often chaotic, with Idema, the prosecutor and witnesses in the gallery shouting out at once.

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